Alan Twigg, Author

Alan Twigg with Guitar Case Alan Twigg was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 2015.

He received the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2016. Previously he was the first and only recipient of ABPBC Media Award in 1988 and the inaugural recipient of the Gray Campbell Distinguished Service Award for outstanding contributions to literature and publishing in 2000. In 2007, he became the second person to accept the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship in the Humanities at Simon Fraser University “to recognize and support leaders in the humanities who are not necessarily part of the academy.” In the same year he was the first Writer in Residence at the George Price Center for Peace in Belize. In 2010, he received the Pandora’s Collective Publisher’s Award of Merit. In 2011 he received the Mayor of Vancouver’s annual Literary Arts Award. Playing on a over-50s team from Canada, he won a gold medal for soccer at the World Masters Games in Turin, Italy, in 2013.

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Since 1987, Alan Twigg has written and published B.C. BookWorld, an assertively middle brow publication distributed by more than 650 outlets in B.C. The educational newspaper has been cited by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing as the most essential cog in the infrastructure that supports writing and publishing in British Columbia.

Since 2001, as an adjunct to that populist publication, he has also written and managed ABCBookWorld, a public reference service for and about more than 12,000 British Columbia authors. Hosted by Simon Fraser University Library, this service has become the Wikipedia of B.C. literature, attracting more than 5,000 visitors per day as of 2020.

Since 2014, he has devised, launched and written BCBookLook, an omnibus news hub for B.C. literature. It provides original material such as videos, audio interviews, blogs, bestseller lists, lengthy essays, excerpts, theatre reviews, event information and news stories. More than 1,500 original posts were added during its first two-and-a-half years. It serves 1,000 visitors per day as of 2020.

In 2015, he created the Literary Map of B.C., a digital platform highlighting the cultural importance of 190 B.C. authors and locations. It contains the equivalent of nine books of original text and photos. He has simultaneously selected, and wrote text for, more than fifty literary landmarks erected in Vancouver for the Vancouver Public Library.

In 2016, he created and launch The Ormsby Review, a new forum for in-depth book reviews and essays pertaining to British Columbia, edited by Richard Mackie. In its first two years a a pilot project, unfunded, they generated 360 contributions from almost 300 contributors. It has since become the most prodigious avenue for serious criticism of books from and about British Columbia.

From 2016 to 2019, spearheaded a campaign to support the remote village of Luhombero in western Tanzania. Funds were raised to purchase a new pick-up truck from Europe to serve as both an emergency vehicle for the community and to assist in agricultural projects for year-round food production. Details are at www.helpluhombero.org.

Previously, for five years, he collected and sent nursing and medical supplies to Belize, in conjunction with DHL. In 1999 he coordinated a fundraising campaign for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an organization he continues to support. In 2007, he organized and hosted Reckoning 07, a conference on the past and future of British Columbia writing and publishing, held at Simon Fraser University in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of BC BookWorld.

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Alan Twigg is the author and editor of nineteen books. These include three biographies, two collections of interviews, a sports memoir, a series on B.C. literary history as well as histories of Belize and Cuba. He also provided the introduction for Peter Sekirin’s Memories of Chekhov (2011) and co-edited Tolstoy’s Words to Live By (2020).

In 2008, he wrote the first literary book about the beautiful game from a Canadian perspective, Full-Time: A Soccer Story, It’s a year-long account of Vancouver soccer players who travel to southern Spain to compete against much younger teams, including European ex-professionals. It was re-released in a Readers Digest version in 2010. Returning to Europe in 2013, he played on an undefeated team that allowed only one goal in seven games to win the world championship for men over age fifty at the World Masters Games in Turin. The World Masters Games are held every four years and are considered the Olympics for global athletes over age forty.

Alan Twigg with George Woodcock

Alan Twigg with George Woodcock

In 2009, he wrote Tibetans in Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks, a book about the private lives of the prolific anarchist George Woodcock and his Buddhist wife Ingeborg Woodcock who befriended the Dalai Lama in 1961. Their charitable aid work gave rise to two, still operational, non-profit societies, Tibetan Refugee Aid Society and Canada India Village Aid.

In 2010, he published the first critical and comprehensive overview of B.C. literature, The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books & Authors, the fourth and largest volume in his series on the literary history of British Columbia that includes First Invaders (2004), Aboriginality (2005) and Thompson’s Highway (2006). Aboriginality remains the first (and only) book to have comprehensively examined indigeous literature on a provincial basis.

He has also been a contributor to books about Leonard Cohen, Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Matt Cohen and the Georgia Straight, as well as assorted anthologies. His first book of literary history, Vancouver & Its Writers, was shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 1987. First Invaders was shortlisted for the same award in 2005, the same year he won First Prize in the Lush Creative Non-Fiction contest, sponsored by subTerrain magazine. His award-winning memoir about the death of his father was re-published in The Utne Reader. The Essentials received an honourable mention from the B.C. Historical Society for its annual Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for B.C. history (distinct from the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence).

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Alan Twigg has founded or co-founded most of the major literary awards in British Columbia. He co-founded the B.C. Book Prizes in 1985, serving as an unpaid executive director and chief fundraiser during a rebuilding stage in the 1990s, providing continuous management support until 2001 when he was briefly sidelined by a brain tumour that was successfully removed by Dr. Christopher Honey at Vancouver General Hospital.

In 1995, he created the $5000 George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia; he has continuously managing all aspects ever since.

In 2004 he co-founded the $2500 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness, for which he continuously provides all administrative services on a volunteer basis.

In 2012 he co-founded the Basil Stuart-Stubbs Prize for outstanding academic book about British Columbia, an award he also co-manages on a volunteer basis.

As well, he founded and coordinated the VanCity Book Prize for best B.C. book pertaining to women’s issues, since discontinued–but revived in 2020 as the Jane Rule Prize for Women’s Issues. He coordinated the City of Vancouver Book Prize for five years and he has organized various events to honour the province’s senior writers, including a series of events for and about British Columbia’s foremost man of letters, George Woodcock, in 1994.

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Among the various documentary films he has written, produced and hosted are George Woodcock, Anarchist of Cherry Street; Jeannette Armstrong: Knowledge-Keeper; and Spilsbury’s Coast which aired nationally on CBC.  Versions are available for viewing elsewhere on this site. Other documentary film subjects have included Eric Nicol, Peter Trower, the B.C. Book Prizes and the activist/poet Bud Osborn, for whom he also produced a music CD called Hundred Block Rock. He and musician colleague David Lester helped to orchestrate Bud Osborn’s candidacy for city council.

For several years he contributed to Sheryl MacKay’s CBC Radio program North by Northwest with an ongoing series about important B.C. books called ‘Turning Up the Volumes.’ He has hosted a CBC television series about B.C. authors.

From 1995 to 1998 he was an editorial page columnist for The Province, a stint that was terminated by the intervention of Conrad Black, the owner, who objected to his opinions. He has contributed to many other  publications such as Quill & Quire, BC Historical News, Georgia Straight, Globe & Mail, British Columbia History, Lived Experience, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s, Vancouver Sun, Step and Pacific Northwest Review of Books.

For approximately three years in the early 1980s, he wrote a weekly theatre column for Georgia Straight, taking over the column from Tom Shandel and participating in the inaugural Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards. He also edited one issue of the Georgia Straight newspaper (with Arts Club mentor and manager Bill Millerd on its cover). He wrote and performed an original musical at the Arts Club Revue Theatre, Where The Songs Come From. In 2013, under the pseudonym Paul Durras, he resumed providing theatre reviews for The Province and for vancouverplays.com, a site managed by veteran actor Jerry Wasserman.

Alan Twigg was a founding board member of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing and he has taught classes at the Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, University of Victoria and various high schools. He briefly taught a course on the history of B.C. publishing and literature for Simon Fraser University, a university he dropped out of in 1971 after one year of study, choosing to drive a garbage truck instead.

He served a two-year term as a Library Trustee on the board of directors for the Vancouver Public Library (2011-2012). He has also served on the City of Vancouver’s Public Art Committee and he has hosted countless literary events, including the Simon Fraser University’s third annual Symposium on the Novel at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in 2004 and the 25th annual B.C. Book Prizes gala in 2009.

He is a fifth-generation Vancouverite. Relatives of both his mother and father lived in British Columbia in the 1800s.

AUDIO FILE: Prior to receiving the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2016, Alan Twigg was interviewed by CBC Radio’s Sheryl MacKay for her program, North By Northwest, on May 1, 2016.

BOOKS:

Moon Madness: Dr. Louise Aall, Sixty Years of Healing in Africa (Ronsdale, 2019)

Undaunted: The Best of BC BookWorld (Ronsdale, 2013). 978-1-55380-253-2  242 p.

The Essentials: 150 Great B.C. Books & Authors. (Ronsdale, 2010). 978-1-55380-108-5 320 p.

Tibetans in Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks (Ronsdale, 2009). 978-1-55380-079-8 271 p.

Full-Time: A Soccer Story (Douglas Gibson Books, McClelland & Stewart, 2008). 978-0-7710-8645-8 293 p.

Thompson’s Highway: British Columbia’s Fur Trade, 1800-1850 (Ronsdale, 2006) 978-1-55380-039-2 253 p.

Understanding Belize: A Historical Guide (Harbour 2006). 240 p.

Aboriginality: The Literary Origins of British Columbia (Ronsdale 2005). 260 p.

First Invaders: The Literary Origins of British Columbia (Ronsdale 2004). 229 p.

101 Top Historical Sites of Cuba (Beach Holme 2004). 126 p.

Intensive Care: A Memoir (Anvil Press 2002). 80 p.

Cuba: A Concise History for Travellers (Harbour, 2004; Penguin Books 2002; Bluefield Books 2000). 198 p.

Twigg’s Directory of 1001 BC Writers (Crown Publications 1992). 194 p.

Strong Voices: Conversations with 50 Canadian Writers (Harbour 1988). 291 p.

Vander Zalm, From Immigrant to Premier: A Political Biography (Harbour 1986).

Vancouver and Its Writers (Harbour 1986). 165 p.

Hubert Evans: The First Ninety-Three Years (Harbour 1985).

For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers (Harbour 1981).

ALSO (IN CHINESE)

First Invaders: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Vol. 1 (Peking University Press, 2013)

Aboriginality: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Vol. 2 (Peking University Press, 2013)

Thompson’s Highway: British Columbia’s Fur Trade, 1800–1850: The Literary Origins of British Columbia, Vol. 3 (Peking University Press, 2013)

CONTRIBUTOR TO:

Alan Twigg and Leonard Cohen

Alan Twigg and Leonard Cohen

Conversations with Robertson Davies (University Press of Mississippi 1989)

Margaret Atwood, Conversations (Firefly 1990)

Take This Waltz: A Celebration of Leonard Cohen (The Muses Company 1994)

Uncommon Ground: A Celebration of Matt Cohen (Knopf 2002)

Memories of Chekhov: Accounts of the Writer from His Family, Friends and Contemporaries (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press, 2011). Edited and translated by Peter Sekirin; Introduction by Alan Twigg

Conversations with Allen Ginsberg (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2019). Edited by David Stephen Calonne.

FILMS (partial list)

George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street

Eric Nicol: Look Back in Humour

Peter Trower: The Men They Were Then

Jeannette Armstrong: Knowledge-Keeper of the Okanagan

Spilsbury’s Coast

Remembering Bud Osborn

The Little Prince in Vancouver

Upon leaving BC BookWorld (2019)

“A man of free intelligence”

Inspired by George Woodcock, who bequeathed him his signed first edition of Animal Farm, Alan Twigg has steadfastly persevered, in Woodcock’s words, as “a man of free intelligence.” Nobody has told him what to do or what to think. He has been the heart and soul of the B.C. book community since the 1970s. Over the course of his fifty years as a self-employed journalist, BC BookWorld’s founder has written about 12,000 B.C. authors, founded or co-founded most of the province’s literary awards and somehow written 18 books. Most of the writing for the previous 124 issues of BC BookWorld has been his—uncredited.  Now he wants to answer far few emails and write more books. Moon Madness: Dr. Louise Aall, Sixty Years of Healing in Africa, is his new biography of the only living physician who worked alongside Albert Schweitzer. “I wanted to write a book about a good person,” he says.

We have had so many queries from our readers, I’ve asked him to provide an outgoing message. Here it is. – Beverly Cramp, new publisher of BC BookWorld

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People say you can’t just leave. You should say something.

Well, not necessarily.

It has been a matter of principle and some pride to keep myself out of this publication since 1987. I have adhered to a strict mandate: spread as much information as possible, about as many B.C. books as possible, to as many people as possible.

And if you don’t get to the end of an article, I have failed you.

I believe BC BookWorld is enjoyed and trusted by so many people because it is an educational publication full of news about the society in which you live. Most people don’t stop and think about it in these globalized digital times, but British Columbia has its own culture. The best way to learn its depth, diversity and its foundering collectivity is by reading its books.

For 33 years, I have been a grateful learner along with you. Except for one brief announcement about a brain tumour operation, my personal life has been irrelevant. Here’s all you need to know: My health is perfectly fine. I am still playing competitive soccer. While the seas are calm, while the good ship B.C BookWorld is still thriving and everything is stable, that’s the best time to pass along command of the ship.

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Growing up here, as a fifth-generation Vancouverite, reading all of Thomas Hardy, with parents who never attended university, I gradually came to realize that a literary ladder of hierarchy was firmly in place. The best-known writers at the top were all English and dead. Followed by American and dead. Followed by English and alive. Then American and alive. Then Eastern Canada.

There was no sixth rung. B.C. writers were automatically invisibilized with only Pauline Johnson, Roderick Haig-Brown and humourist Eric Nicol as exceptions. Malcolm Lowry was not mentioned (they bulldozed his shack). Everyone accepted this hierarchy without question.

Instead of going to university to learn the hierarchy, I chose to drive a garbage truck while I was starting BC BookWorld in the late 1980s. I’d park the garbage truck in Lighthouse Park for extended lunch hours while I’d use the phone in one of the Parks Board buildings to make long distance calls to all the booksellers and librarians around the province, securing support for B.C. BookWorld to focus exclusively on books by, for or about British Columbians.

It has always been my goal to spread the wealth around. To be non-hierarchical. This was radical. In those early days, Stan Persky, in a Vancouver Sun article, dubbed me “the Robin Hood of Canadian literature.” David Lester joined me in Sherwood Forest from the get-go.

Our goal hasn’t swerved for four decades: let no B.C. writer be invisiblized. A reference site called ABCBookWorld was erected accordingly, hosted by SFU Library. We’ve also created the Literary Map of B.C., a digital news service called BCBookLook, more book awards than we have room to mention and recently The Ormsby Review, a new forum for in-depth book reviews, edited by Richard Mackie. Plus, eight documentary films about B.C. writers.

While we expanded our workload to do everything mentioned in the preceding paragraph, Canada Council funding has essentially stayed frozen for twenty years. In essence, we haven’t been paid for doing any of that extra stuff. As a two-person operation, we’ve continued to lob media bombs over the Rocky Mountains, counteracting the barrage of media that continuously tells British Columbians what and how to think.

In the immortal words of B.C. explorer Captain Bodega-y-Quadra, “I sailed on, taking fresh trouble for granted.” Now thousands of B.C. authors are widely-known and most people take that for granted. A New Orthodoxy (which includes bureaucrats) is now far less attuned to the needs of regional egalitarianism; now they want to control content directly.

Such top-down didacticism has the two Georges, Orwell and Woodcock, rolling in their graves.

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Idealists have long gravitated west, such as the great Quaker novelist Hubert Evans who survived three years in World War I trenches before writing Mist on the River (1954), the Great BC Novel. As Anne Cameron likes to say, that’s why we put the Rocky Mountains there, so only the smart people can figure out how to get through.

Right now, we are blessed. I believe we have one of the most effective, social serving provincial governments on the planet. And, yes, we have writers as talented and worthy as anywhere else on earth. We therefore have a responsibility to come together and export our values and our literature, and provide leadership for a world that does not have the luxury of freedom for unlimited hope—as we do.

Thank you to all B.C. authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, BC Ferries & TNG, SFU Library, Vancouver Public Library, Creative B.C. (Richard Brownsey, Prem Gill, Robert Wong) and especially the readers who have steadfastly held fast to The Sixth Rung of the literary ladder.

Special thanks go to co-visionaries Howard White and Yosef Wosk for their much-needed wisdom.

Most of all, thank you to approximately 100,00 readers per issue—for getting to the end.

  • A.T

[Alan Twgg remains active in supporting charitable projects in the town of Mahenge and the village of Luhombero in Tanzania. Future projects include a book on Tolstoy, a play about the life and loves of Anton Chekhov and various projects in association with Yosef Wosk, as well as more soccer and more travel. — B. Cramp]

Epilepsy pioneer finally gets her due

A new biography recalls how Dr. Louise Aall met Albert Schweitzer in Gabon and revolutionized the treatment of epilepsy (called “moon madness” by locals) in Africa.

In 2019, Dr. Louise Aall of Tsawwassen met with the Tanzanian physician Dr. Dan Bhwana who now runs her epilepsy clinic in Mahenge where epilepsy rates are ten times higher than the global norm.

Doing house calls by canoe, sharing rooms with bats and scorpions, and getting poked and prodded by curious villagers were all in a day’s work for Dr. Louise Aall, who was eventually awarded a bravery medal from the Red Cross.

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Moon Madness: Dr Louise Aall, Sixty Years of Healing in Africa
(Ronsdale Press $21.95) by Alan Twigg

Review by Mark Forsythe (2020)

In 1959, as a freshly minted doctor, Louise Aall was working alone in East Africa, testing medicine for amoebic dysentery. She did house calls by canoe, shared rooms with bats and scorpions, and was poked and prodded by curious villagers. She began groundbreaking research into epilepsy and established clinics to treat people suffering from “moon madness” as the locals called it, or kikafa in Swahili.

Dr. Aall was also one of the last people to work beside Nobel Prize Laureate, Dr. Albert Schweitzer at his jungle clinic in Gabon. Known as “Mama Mgango” (Mama Doctor), she fell in love with African people, and the continent’s wildlife and landscapes. This special relationship endures 60 years later and her Mahenge Epilepsy Clinic continues to provide care for patients and education about the disease for families.

Dr Aall’s story unfolds chronologically — and dramatically — in Alan Twigg’s biography, Moon Madness: Dr Louise Aall, Sixty Years of Healing in Africa. Her myriad experiences and private thoughts emerge through extensive interviews, diaries and Twigg’s three research trips to Africa.

Louise was born in 1931, one of three children to Norwegian academics. Her father, Anathon headed the Philosophy Department at the University of Oslo and her Austrian-born mother, Lily was a famous ethnologist and author. Great-grandparents included high profile Norwegian politicians; the family home was just a stone’s throw from the royal palace at Oslo.

Louise was home-schooled and an ardent reader who dreamed of life as a doctor. Her mother issued warnings about romance getting in the way: “You have to be careful! Once you let a man kiss you, it’s the beginning of going too far into that…and before you know it, you are pregnant.”

The German invasion of Norway in April 1940 changed their lives of privilege. Lily had Jewish friends and had helped some relocate to England so the Aalls sought refuge at their country home in Ospeteig. Louise and brother Cato did chores on nearby farms and were usually paid in food. Their father Anathon was now entering the final stages of Parkinson’s disease, and young Louise became his primary caregiver. By 1943, he was bedridden and delirious. “If the Germans found out, they would have taken him away and euthanized him, as they did with so many others suffering from mental illness,” says Louise. His dying words to her helped guide her life: “Be full of love and truthful.”

Louise enrolled in private school after the war. Socially awkward, she lacked self-confidence, and was told by a math teacher to give up on the dream of becoming a doctor. Her marks were not sufficient for the University of Oslo, but eventually she entered a medical training program in Tubingen, Germany–determined to prove the math teacher wrong. She returned to Oslo and was in the audience when Dr. Albert Schweitzer delivered a Nobel Peace Prize lecture about his work in Gabon.

Tropical medicine studies followed in Switzerland where another hero, Henry Dunant, had helped create the Red Cross. In Zurich, Louise also experienced first love. Tragically, the young man died in her arms of kidney failure. At age 28, Louise left for Africa to conduct research on a drug for amoebic dysentery. “Soon there would literally be no end to the number of people who wanted her medical attention,” writes Twigg.

Her work began at Ifakara, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) where Louise was also called upon to deliver babies. She learned Swahili (one of 10 languages she has spoken), and became a figure of fascination. “Children from the nearby school loved to knock on her door just to have a glimpse of her. Whenever she opened the door, they would shriek with delight and run away laughing.” Louise built alliances with local priests and the Archbishop to help open doors in villages. Maasai tribesmen also came to her. “The Maasai were difficult as patients because the men always demanded to be treated before everyone else. If a Maasai felt insulted or provoked, he would swell like a turkeycock and suddenly tear apart his clothes to expose his male attributes–the Maasai gesture of aggression, especially towards women.”

An encounter with a young boy who lived alone in the bush introduced Louise to “moon madness.” His swollen features resembled an old man, and this victim of epilepsy was an outcast without benefit of medical treatment. “Non-scientific or indigenous attempts to counteract epilepsy could sometimes be more harmful than the affliction,” says Louise. “These included burning the soles of the unconscious convulsing patients, dropping acid in their eyes to ‘wake them up’ or forcing cow urine down their throats.”

Dr. Aall gained the boy’s trust, gave him phenobarbital tablets and two weeks later he reported no more seizures. Dr. Aall understood that educating families and communities about the disease was as important as treating it.

Dr. Aall established a clinic and offered the boy a job as a helper. She began investigating why epilepsy rates were ten times higher than the global norm–possibly due to infections by the filaria worm. She discovered “Nodding Syndrome,” a symptom in children who would later go on to develop epilepsy; a finding that was eventually recognized by the World Health Organization many years later.

In 1960, Dr. Aall answered an urgent call by the Norwegian Red Cross to co-manage a hospital in Belgian Congo where civil war was ripping the former colony apart. Through gripping detail, we enter chaotic, overcrowded conditions at the hospital in Matadi where decisions included only treating children with the best chance to live. The hatred and violence of civil war includes a surreal life-and-death table tennis match between Dr. Aall and a Congolese officer responsible for murderous attacks. For her work in the Congo, Dr. Aall was awarded a bravery medal from the Red Cross.

This is only known photo of Dr. Louise Aall at the Lambaréné Hospital operated by Albert Schweitzer, taken in 1961. She is likely the last physician still alive who worked alongside the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

A planned three-day visit in 1961 to Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s clinic turned into an unexpected secondment. A measles outbreak was underway, and she could not refuse Dr. Schweitzer’s pleas to put her medical skills to work. She remained for almost a year, became friends with the famous doctor, and learned much about the realities of jungle medicine.

Later, Dr. Aall undertook psychiatric training in Montreal, pursued anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and with her husband, Dr. Wolfgang Jilek, worked with Indigenous communities in Canada and internationally. Today, Dr. Aall lives in Tsawwassen and is a rare example of altruism, skill and self-sacrifice in action. Many people she treated over the last 60 years have gone on to lead normal lives. Purchasing a copy of Moon Madness can also help as royalties will assist aid projects in Tanzania.

Mark Forsythe is co-author with Greg Dickson of “From the West Coast to the Western Front” (Harbour, 2014).